PM heads to Oman, Qatar, says Gulf vital for India's interests
New Delhi/Muscat, Nov 7 (IANS) A day before his first official visit to Oman and Qatar, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday underlined the 'vital importance' of the Gulf region, home to 4.5 million Indian diaspora, for India's security and prosperity and called for strengthening economic ties between the two sides.
'The Gulf region is an area of vital importance for India's security and prosperity. We have always enjoyed a very special relationship with countries of the region,' Manmohan Singh said in a statement Friday evening ahead of his three-day visit to Oman and Qatar that begins Saturday.
'Nothing epitomizes this more than our ties with the Sultanate of Oman and the Emirate of Qatar,' he said.
In the wake of the current global financial crisis, Manmohan Singh also underscored the increasing importance of the Gulf region for India.
'The current international economic and financial situation provides a unique opportunity for India to leverage the vast surplus funds in the Gulf for our development needs, and to accelerate trade and investment flows into each other's countries,' the prime minister said.
Alluding to the large Indian diaspora in the Gulf region, Manmohan Singh lauded their contribution to the economies of their adopted country and said he would discuss ways to 'better their safety and welfare' in these countries during talks with leaders of Oman and Qatar.
The oil-rich sultanate of Oman is pulling out all stops to warmly welcome Manmohan Singh when he arrives in Muscat Saturday evening - the first trip by an Indian prime minister to that country in a decade. Then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Oman in 1998.
Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs E. Ahamed will be accompanying Manmohan Singh. National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia will also be part of the entourage.
The visit will be a major milestone in bringing India and the Gulf region together, N. Ravi, Secretary (East) in the external affairs ministry, told reporters in New Delhi.
He underlined the importance of the Gulf region for long-term energy security of India and identified IT and education as two emerging areas of cooperation between the two sides.
After delegation-level talks Saturday evening, Manmohan Singh will meet Oman's ruler Sultan Qaboos Bin Al Said the next day and discuss with him a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues, including energy security, economic ties, the international financial crisis and the proposed India-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) free trade agreement.
India and Oman will sign three key accords during the prime minister's visit to Muscat, India's Ambassador to Oman Anil Wadhwa told IANS.
'There is the memorandum of understanding (MoU) for creating the India-Oman Fund. The fund is intended to create seed capital, identification of infrastructure projects in India and Oman, and creating special purpose vehicles,' he said.
As Oman is home to around 500,000 Indians, a manpower agreement between the two sides will be signed to improve the welfare of the expatriate Indians in that country. An agreement will also be signed between the foreign service training institutes of the two countries.
Bilateral trade between the two countries is expected to cross the $1 billion mark by the end of this year.
The Oman India Fertilizer Company (OMIFCO) is the enduring symbol of economic partnership between the two countries and forms India's largest single investment in the region. The project is set up at an estimated cost of $950 million.
Manmohan Singh heads to Qatar - home to around 420,000 expatriate Indians - Sunday evening - the first-ever visit by an Indian prime minister to the gas-rich country.
Nine years ago, India signed an agreement for exporting 7.5 million tonnes of liquefied gas from Qatar annually in two phases. Qatar is the third largest source of gas for India.
Agreements on promoting labour welfare, economic ties and maritime security are under discussion.
India is looking at the Gulf countries as an important partner in India's economic growth path. When Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee visited Saudi Arabia earlier this year, he had said there was scope for investment of around $600 billion in India's infrastructure sector.
Manmohan Singh is expected to address business leaders in both Muscat and Doha and make a pitch for attracting more investment form these countries into India.
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